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Fans Bid Farewell to Gardens

February 14, 1999

TORONTO (AP) _ From tears to beligerence, emotions ran high at Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturday night as raucous fans gathered for the historic arena’s final NHL game.

Outside, hordes of revelers pushed and shoved their way into the yellow stone building as a lone trumpeter played the funeral march.

Scalpers commanded $600 for the worst seats in the house and nobody batted an eye.

``This is history,″ said Phillip DuPre, who shelled out $1,500 for a pair of mid-stadium seats for himself and his 13-year-old son, Jon. ``I grew up watching the Leafs here. No price is too high for tonight.″

Inside, fans wept openly and fights broke out over game programs, which sold out long before the puck was dropped for the Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks to begin the end of NHL hockey’s 68-year history in the building.

``Ladies and gentlemen, just bear with us for a few minutes _ please!″ urged program vendor Rich Bremner, clearly alarmed as hundreds of people crowded into a corner of the arena seeking $10 glossy game programs.

His pleas did not go over well with the group.

``It never changes here,″ complained bystander Beth Kerchove, who waited in line for 20 minutes to buy a corned beef sandwich. ``They never accommodate their fans and they never had enough programs.″

As a shoving match broke out in line, a policeman beseeched the zealous fans to calm down.

``Please, we don’t want anybody to get hurt here,″ he said with a nervous smile. ``We’re all here to have a good time.″

A hush fell over the crowd just before game time.

Ellie Reason, 86, began to weep as announcer Paul Morris noted that it was the last night for the Maple Leafs and the Gardens.

``I came here the first year it opened, in 1931,″ said Reason, decked out in a Maple Leafs jersey. ``But I was from Quebec, so I was a Canadiens fan.

``The fans used to yell at me when I cheered for my team, and call me a swamp singer: a frog. But my husband brought me over to the other side.″

Reason’s son, Jim, said he bought pricey tickets for himself and his mother because he had such fond childhood memories of attending games with his parents.

``A hot dog and a soda and I was happy in the greys (the worst seats in the house),″ he said.

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